History of the Modern Farmer

James P. Davis, editor of The Modern Farmer on the right of the image

The Modern Farmer was the official publication of the National Federation of Colored Farmers (NFCF) and was distributed to Black farmers that paid for a subscription. The federation worked with the National Baptist Publishing House to produce their publication. General topics covered included relevant topics for black farmers, truck gardeners, livestock and poultry breeders, such as market trends, improving crop yields and agricultural policy. Practices such as owning, managing and directing farms were covered as well as economic interests – short-term financial credit and low rates of interest and standards related to grading and marketing of farm products.

The newspaper also promoted cooperative marketing and purchase schemes of farm supplies, diversified agriculture, and the values of land ownership. A typical example is the headline on this front page: "Organization and buying together will pay farmers. NFCF members save much by cooperation." Within the pages, similar ideas were mentioned frequently.

The goals published in the first issue of the organization’s newspaper, emphasized self-help and racial separatism, a philosophy that promoted economic initiative, often linking success with physical isolation in all-black communities and race-conscious businesses that catered to black clientele.

Published stories also included success stories of new local cooperatives opening and correspondence with editors of the Chicago Defender.


The NFCF was founded by four African American men that attended the Tuskegee Institute.

  • James P. Davis (1876-1962), broker
  • Leon Ray Harris (1886-1960), stationary engineer on Chicago-Rock Island Railroad
  • Cornelius R. Richardson (1886-1964), attorney
  • Gilchrist Stewart (1882 -1926), attorney.

The NFCF worked to increase agricultural entrepreneurship profits in Southern African American farmers by creating cooperatives and to increase African American farmer access to urban industrial cities' wholesale markets in the Great Lakes, particularly Chicago.

The federation required membership at a cost of $5.00 for a year. That gave members access to a cooperative that would market produce and purchase farm supplies for resale at reduced rates. There was an additional $1 subscription for the Modern Farmer, which was only available to members of the NFCF. Membership in NFCF was primarily land owning farmers due to these costs.

The NFCF formed local chapters of buying and selling distribution cooperatives. The organization’s membership expanded across the South when it began publishing The Modern Farmer and had membership units in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, southeast Missouri and Tennessee. Most chapters were along the Mississippi and Ohio river valleys; in Mississippi river delta counties, Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee.

Editorial Perspective

National Federation of Colored FarmersCollective organizing and strategizing was mentioned often in the pages of The Modern Farmer each issue published the goals and manifesto of its publishing company, the NFCF. The manifesto made statements such as the following: “The colored farmer’s position, with the vast majority living in southern states, makes the necessity for cooperative organization all the more urgent in order that economic life may be protected and that Negro Farmers may build for themselves a fuller and more satisfying social life.”

Statements such the following appeared throughout each issue: “The National Federation of Colored Farmers believes that the Colored Farmers of America should own and control their own co-operative associations--Cooperation with All--Affiliation with None.

The Modern Farmer & The 1932 Presidential Election

1832 editorial

One of the most visible and impactful examples of The Modern Farmer’s role in social activism is demonstrated in the 1932 presidential election. In the May 16,1932 issue, James P. Davis, wrote an editorial that was highly influential to the election’s outcome. This image shows the actual editorial, and some of the quotations below give a flavor of the content:

“We Colored Americans must wake up, organize and demand a better show.”

“Colored farmers as a group have gotten some sympathy from past administrations, but little else. What relief they have gotten has been indirect, so indirect that often it was side-tracked.”

“Colored farmers…will do well to remember some things this year and support candidates they believe will give them a little consideration they can see and feel…

…After they defeat some of the “promise breakers” a few times a type of candidate will come to life who will realize that promises are sacred and must be kept.”

“Anything worth having is worth fighting for but we have not realized until now that it pays to fight to have and hold jobs.”

The 1932 election represented a sea-change. In the years leading up to the election, the country had suffered catastrophic Biblical floods, followed by periods of drought and then the stock market losses which resulted in the 1932 crash. The incumbent, Republican president Hoover, had failed to provide relief for the nation’s farmers. In fact, he very much believed that relief should come from family, church and private organizations. By the time of the 1932 election, this philosophy had backfired to the point that even traditionally republican voters switched sides. James P. Davis reflected the feelings of the vast majority of the agricultural workers his org represented. In this editorial he had reached his breaking point with the Republican party. He expressed a deep sense of betrayal, writing that the African-American farmers of the South had received little more than expressions of sympathy and no practical relief. Davis called on his readers to shift their vote to the Democrats. The election went to Roosevelt in a landslide. Roosevelt carried 42 states, Hoover carried only 6.

James P. Davis later became a member of Roosevelt’s, Federal Council of Negro Affairs, also known as quote, the “Black Cabinet”, in part due to his support during this election. This was a group of African Americans who served as public policy advisors to President Roosevelt and included leaders such as Mary McLeod Bethune, educator and political activist, William H. Hastie, an attorney that became the first Black federal judge and Robert C. Weaver, an attorney that later became a United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.


Learn more about the Modern Farmer and the NFCF, and find references, on the Wikipedia pages that we created: